Relationships tend to be great in the beginning. Getting along is usually a lot easier when you first get together with someone. After all, there are less dynamics to deal with when you only have two people in a relationship. However, as relationships mature, more responsibilities are added and a couple becomes a family. This expands the number of challenges you have to face, changing the dynamics of the relationship.
As time passes, people grow, mature, and change. The couple, which was once the nexus of the relationship, becomes secondary to the responsibilities of having children and the many changes you go through as a family. The natural ebb and flow of a relationship can cause it to crumble, crack, and break at the surface. This cycle continues as a couple faces the normal challenges of family life.
Some couples do not survive these changes. The people in the relationship may become unhappy with one another. You may have seen this happen to your friends. Perhaps you’ve experienced it firsthand.
Instead of continuing to be the romantic couple you once were, you become good roommates or just friends as you slowly but continually move away from coupledom. You may even be comfortable in co-parenting and managing the family calendar, making appearances together as a couple. After all, this is the expectation. You need to show up if you are in a relationship or a married couple. You have to be there for your kids.
But is this really the right thing to do? Countless articles debate the topic: should you stay in a marriage just for the kids, or end the relationship if it already seems to be over?
Many couples wait. This explains why so many divorces occur once the kids are in high school or headed to college. You might have been shocked to hear about a couple married for a long time who decided to end it. You might think a split was sudden, but it may have been in the works for years.
After all, we’ve been taught that marriage is for better or worse, in sickness and health.. But should you stay married if it is to the detriment of who you are? This is the million dollar question that plagues many married couples.
The hardest relationship to walk away from is one in which you don’t necessarily have a reason to leave except the big empty feeling of being unhappy or just not feeling right. It seems selfish to want to leave a relationship for this reason. We’ve been taught to think this is wrong.
However, the reality is this: you walk away from pretty much any other scenario when you are not happy. Unhappy with your career, you switch and move on. Not happy at your job, you quit and look for another one. Marriage is a different beast. Because of the societal ties and pressures to make it work no matter what, you may suck it up and stick with it.
You may lull yourself into believing you are doing this for the kids. You may convince yourself that you can’t deal with the realistic struggle of the financial impact of divorce. And what about your desire to prove your in-laws wrong, to show them you were in fact good enough for their daughter or son?
Getting a divorce because it would make you happy is difficult to contemplate. If you come from a divorced or broken family, the last thing you want is to get married, have kids, then get divorced. Life is not supposed to go in that particular order. You don’t want your kids to experience what you experienced. You don’t want them to grow up in a single parent home. Yet, the scary part of what you create in a marriage when you do not have a healthy relationship is a cycle of negative relationships that your kids will carry on into their own relationships.
My parents stayed married. But for my dad it was a second marriage. So I learned a lot about divorce and its impact on kids. Every child reacts differently. Some kids will react badly, while others will have seen it coming and feel relief, as long as their own relationship is still secure with both parents. And this reaction will be the same, no matter what age they are.
The one thing which can make it easier for kids is the way parents handle the divorce. If they communicate to each other, as well as to the children through the process, the kids will adapt more readily.
I watched my half-sisters manage this process. I observed how there was always a perception that, even though they spent time with our Dad, this time was limited. They thought the kids in the second marriage were luckier because we had Dad full-time. When their mom remarried, it helped. However, they still complained about a lack of time with their dad.
Ironically, I too never felt like I had Dad full-time because he was so busy. He had to handle the financial responsibilities of a large family along with his religious obligations. Most kids want more time and attention from their parents, be they married or divorced.
I believe it would have helped if my Dad had established better communication with his daughters. His failure to communicate caused my half-sisters to fill in the gaps of what they did not know. For many years, they were confused because Dad was not good at keeping the lines of communication open.
There are ways to prevent and improve the situation. Most important is this: couples need to properly manage their marriage, adjust the expectations they have of marriage, and define an exit strategy when they leave a marriage. I am not saying you should go into your marriage with an exit strategy. What I am saying is if you decide to end it, you need to be intentional about how you will exit the relationship. You’ll need to have a good relationship with your kids and soon-to-be ex. The bitterness and contention that accompanies divorce causes these essential elements to become lost in the mix.
Divorce is hard on all parties. But what is most devastating to kids is when their parents cannot cohabitate and do not exemplify or show love. This is what sets up a repeat relationship failure for kids. The pattern gets continued generation after generation.
If your daughter sees you continuously accepting infidelity on the part of your husband because he is a good provider, she will psychologically justify this type of behavior when she gets married. If your son sees you being abusive or non-communicative to your spouse, he may do the same when he’s older. It may be subtle, but what we experience watching our parents’ relationships is likely to play out in our own relationships time and time again.
What about the relationship cues you and your partner exhibit? Lack of affection, poor communication, emotional disconnection, all set the tone, conveying the idea to your kids that this type of relationship is the norm. And guess what? When they are in a committed relationship and their significant other complains about poor communication or lack of affection, they too will act out in much the same way that you did. After all, they watched their parents interact and can justify behavior by saying “Hey, it worked for my parents and they’ve been married for many years.”
You must set the tone, be the example, and demonstrate the behaviors you want your kids to model in their own future relationships. This is important for their long-term well-being.
Just because certain dysfunctions worked for your parents does not mean their relationship was healthy. I am not saying when things get tough you should throw in the towel. If you can work through your relationship challenges, do it. When you can, work through your relationship. But, if you don’t have a relationship you are willing to work on, do recognize this. If you don’t, you are wasting your time as well as your spouse’s, and your kids’. Your kids will pick up on it. Children have emotional intelligence and are attuned to love, relationships, and emotions that are unspoken.
Keep in mind this alarming statistic: No matter when people decide to get divorced, whether it was when the kids were young or grown, 80% wish they had done it sooner
You are capable of receiving love. There is a relationship that will work for you. Sometimes all you need is a nudge in the right direction. If you are struggling with your current relationship, newly divorced and looking to get back in the dating scene, or single and trying to find the right person for you, maybe I can help. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up on my website to receive dating tips and relationship advice. For fast advice, read my book, The Relationship Investigator’s Fast Guide to Successful Dating.